Ten Books that have Influenced Me the Most

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together was a book I read at the exact time I needed to read it. That is why it tops my list.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together was a book I read at the exact time I needed to read it. That is why it tops my list.

You may have seen the meme going around on Facebook where people list the ten books that influenced them the most then they tag someone else asking them to do the same. No one has tagged me, so I'm aware that my opinion is not highly sought, but I'm going to list my ten if for no one else but me! At the bottom of the post I list many others that have been important to me, many that could have made my top ten if I wrote this a month ago or a month from now. Obviously the Bible is the most influential "book" (or library of books), so don't be offended that I don't list it. I see the Bible as being categorically superior to all those I've listed in a way that putting it in my list would seem trite. 

(10) N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

I was handed a Dispensationalist Eschatology that made no sense of the Bible, Christian tradition, or the real world. For a while I felt agnostic about eschatology, but this book gave me hope. It allowed me to rethink my approach to not just doctrine, but ethics as well.

(09) Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

I haven't finished this book yet, but I know it is making my list. My eyes are opened. I see things in a way I've never seen them. This book has shocked me and I thought I was fairly aware of the nature of racism as it impacts my nation and the Church. I had no idea.

(08) C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In my early twenties I think this was the first book I read by Lewis. It is a classic. Lewis articulated reasons to believe, but not in a way that Fundamentalist Pentecostals and Evangelicals did. When I read books by other Christian apologist they seemed hollow in comparison. More importantly, this book was the gateway to The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed, which take two drastically different approaches to the questions of theodicy and suffering and that shaped my intellectual and emotional engagement with those problems; The Screwtape Letters, which were quite important for someone surrounded by demon-hunting Pentecostals; and The Great Divorce, which gave me a nuanced view of our eternal destiny and the question of hell long before Wright's Surprised by Hope would help along even further.

(07) John Wesley, Forty-Four Sermons

For many years I have sought an ecclesial tradition to call home while maintaining broader ecumenical engagement. Wesleyanism/Methodism has become that tradition for me and part of the tipping point was reading Wesley's sermons. There is much with which I disagree, and there are many places where our differences in time, place, and culture make me grimace a bit, but overall I sense that when he says "if your heart is as my heart...take my hand" that I am willing to see Wesley as a historical figure who can continue to mentor me, a voting member in "the democracy of the dead". (A week ago I became a confessing member of the United Methodist Church.)

(06) Judith M. Kunst, The Burning Word: A Christian Encounter with Midrash

As I've said elsewhere:

"It has been several years since I read this book, and I can't tell you whether or not she does a good job handling the idea of Midrash, but I do know that the central image (the one on the cover) became my working model for reading the Bible as Scripture: Jacob wrestling with the Angel. Jacob would not win, the Angel would not be defeated, but the act of wrestling made Jacob into "Israel", a man changed. Fundamentalism demands we merely "submit" to Scripture, ignoring that their reading of the Bible may not be what the Bible demands. Liberal criticism often acts as if it won the match pinning Scripture to the ground as defeated, but I find this to be hubris. In the middle is the wrestling we know we won't win, but we wrestle anyways, and we are changed. The Bible is like the Angel in that it can be pushed and shoved—it is a library of human writings—but it can change us forever because it is a primary conduit of the Divine Spirit."

This image of Jacob wrestling the angel, along with the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, shaped my understanding of the spiritual activity of reading Scripture.

(05) Robert L. Webb, John the Baptizer and Prophet: A Sociohistorical Study

This book opened my eyes to the significance of John the Baptist in history and for Christian origins. It has led me to continue focusing on this mysterious figure and his context in my studies. Interestingly, and maybe without intention, it made me see him as an extremely relevant figure for modern Christians to understand and maybe even for some to loosely emulate: speaking truth to power. Some books with adjacent influence: Joan E. Taylor's The Immerser: John the Baptist in Second Temple JudaismWalter Wink's John the Baptist in the Gospel Traditionand Catherine M. Murphy's John the Baptist: Prophet of Purity for a New Age.

(04) Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the 21st Century

I became a Christian via Pentecostalism. This means I spent about two decades wrestling with what I believed about the world in dialogue with Pentecostal beliefs. Eventually I left those circles, but thankfully I read this book, which allowed me to have a more nuanced understanding of Pentecostalism and taught me that there are aspects of it worth appreciating and maintaining.

(03) Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament

This is the first book that put into my head the idea that the condescending of God toward humanity can be paired with the doctrine of the inspiration in a way that allows us to honestly read Scripture as Scripture without denying its historical situatedness. It may have saved me as a reader of the Bible. I was shocked when it became a book that caused conservative Evangelicals to exile Enns from their midst.

(02) John R. Levison, Filled with the Spirit

This book rocked my understanding of Christian Pneumatology. It gave me an interest in ancient pneumatology in general. It could be said that no other book has impacted both my religious and academic interests as much at the same time as this book did. It should be noted that his other more popular level works—Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life and Inspired: The Holy Spirit and the Mind of Faith continued the influence of Filled with the Spirit.

(01) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

This book rescued me from so much. It allowed me to embrace the Church as the Church present in order to love the Church. It saved me from confusing my vision for the Church with Jesus'. It was a mirror to remind me of how I am not the perfect Christian and that I hope others will be patient with me. I know I haven't lived up to its ideals, but I can say it saved my Christianity at an important juncture in my life.

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Other books of note: Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book (academics); Athansius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation (Christian Dogma and Patristics); Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit (early Christian Pneumatology and Patristics); Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Christian theology and spirituality); Gordon D. Fee, God's Empowering Presence (Pauline Pneumatology); James D.G. Dunn, The Baptism of the Holy Spirit (early Christian Pneumatology and modern Pentecostalism) and The Theology of the Apostle Paul; Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus (historical Jesus studies); Christopher M. Hays and Christopher B. Ansberry, Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism (Evangelicalism and scholarship); J.R. Daniel Kirk, Unlocking Romans (the Epistle to the Romans); Anthony Le Donne, Historical Jesus (historical Jesus studies); Scot McKnight, King Jesus Gospel (early and contemporary Christianity); Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Christian theology and spirituality); Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz (Christian spirituality); Jacob Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began (early Judaism and Christianity), Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Evangelicalism and scholarship); Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (Christian theology and spirituality) and The Pastor (pastoral theology and Christian spirituality); Kavin C. Rowe, World Upside Down (the Book of Acts); E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (early Judaism and Christianity); Don Thorsen, Calvin vs. Wesley (contemporary Christianity and theology); Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (Christian theology and spirituality); N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (early Christianity and epistemology); Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing about Grace? (Christian spirituality); Amos Young, The Spirit Poured Out Upon All Flesh (Christian Pneumatology and the problem of religious pluralism).